36 million chickens and turkeys have been killed this year across 32 states due to the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza. More than 5 million of those chickens were killed, by being roasted alive, at just one egg farm, Rembrandt Foods, in Iowa. The mass killing at Rembrandt has received international press coverage in hundreds of outlets, but not just because of the shocking cruelty. It took a series of disruptions of NBA play-off games to get Rembrandt’s cruelty seen by millions of people. I was one of those disruptions.
During an NBA game between the Timberwolves and Grizzlies on national television, I chained myself to the base of the hoop to get the world’s attention. My action briefly disrupted the game while security worked to break the chain, giving the thousands of people watching enough time to read my shirt, which said “GLEN TAYLOR ROASTS ANIMALS ALIVE.” Soon after, Glen Taylor started trending on Twitter, and #ChainGirl was taking off, too.
Taylor is the billionaire owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the owner of Rembrandt Foods. In March, his farm detected a single case of avian influenza and decided to kill all 5.3 million birds on the property to stop the spread of the disease. The method they used was “ventilation shutdown,” where the barn vents are sealed off, heat is pumped inside, and birds die slowly from hyperthermia and suffocation.
On campus, I run the UC Berkeley chapter of Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, an international network of animal rights activists. It was from other members of DxE that I learned that the horror at Rembrandt didn’t end with “ventilation shutdown.” DxE had investigated Rembrandt Foods after the mass killing and found some birds who were still alive after surviving the extreme heat. I quickly decided to get involved in the campaign, tethering myself to both the cause and the base of a basketball hoop and exposing these findings to the world. If that meant I had to fall behind on schoolwork and fly to Memphis to disrupt the Timberwolves, it was worth it.
My disruption of the Timberwolves game resulted in a flurry of press, from the New York Post to ESPN. It also resulted in legal charges. The police and stadium management told me I was a terrorist; the police read different terrorism charges to me trying to intimidate me, as I sat there in handcuffs. Fortunately, I was prepared for this kind of situation and remained calm. Ultimately, I spent one night in jail on charges of trespass and disorderly conduct. This was not my first time going to jail for activism.
In fact, this wasn’t the first or even the second time that I had chained myself to something in protest. In 2018, I chained myself to the entrance of a slaughterhouse on the Cal Poly campus trying to prevent the scheduled slaughter of a cow. In 2020, I chained myself to Sather Gate on the first day of classes to demand that UC Berkeley cut ties with a supplier to the university dining halls that I had exposed for abusing animals. Before that action at Sather Gate, I had sent campus officials video footage that I took myself at their “pork” supplier Seaboard Foods. The footage showed piglets squealing as they were smashed between their mothers and the crates confining them, as well as pigs with bloody sores and rampant disease. My emails received no response. However, immediately after the protest at Sather Gate, Cal Dining reached out to me to tell me they were dropping Seaboard Foods. They even made a public statement about it, calling our investigation findings “deeply disturbing.”
I have seen firsthand how nonviolent direct action can capture attention and build pressure to create change, and we need change now. The CDC reports that three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in humans come from animals. It’s only a matter of time until a factory farm, perhaps here in the U.S., starts a new pandemic. Because of the way that animals are crowded together in these facilities, diseases spread rapidly and often mutate as we have seen with COVID-19. Beyond disease control, there are also, of course, issues of animal welfare. Investigations, including investigations that I’ve conducted, have shown that factory farms regularly house animals in tight confinement, leave them to suffer from injuries and illnesses without providing medical care, and mutilate their bodies without anesthetic. As farms continue to spread diseases such as HPAI, torturing animals and exploiting workers in the process, it is crucial that people take direct action to challenge this violent industry.
One easy way the public can support our efforts is by our “Glen Taylor Roasts Animals Alive” petition calling on Glen Taylor to donate all avian-influenza related government bailout money he’s received to public health charities and animal sanctuaries. Holding Glen Taylor accountable in this way would serve as a warning to other animal-abusing companies and support nonprofit organizations working to rescue animals from cruelty and give them better lives.